Ah, my newbie writer self: so innocent, so enthusiastic, so convinced major success was waiting to fall into her lap. So enamored with her new calling, her story permeated her life. It was the focus of her dreams: both kinds. Her husband got jealous of the time she spent obsessing over another (albeit fictional) male. Her mother (almost) got tired of reading new drafts. Convinced of the rightness of her place in the writerly universe, the words flowed, and she put them all to use.
Notice I didn’t say “to good use” back there. Oh no. As Mae West once said, “goodness had nothing to do with it.” Her themes were cliché, her descriptions went on forever, and I’m pretty sure there are Duran Duran videos with more plot than her original novel had. But the passion was there, and her output showed it. The only thing standing between her and success was hitting that Submit button. Soon, (possibly too soon), she did. Instant success? Not so much. Did the realization dawn on her that she maybe had a little more to learn? Did it ever! So learn; she did. Young Syd got better—a hell of a lot better. Her story began to resemble a seventh-grader’s attempt at erotic fan fiction a little less and a real book that other people might actually want to read a little more. She got better feedback from critique partners, contest judges, and agents. She was getting closer—and not just in the lollipop landscape of her own mind.
This is where things changed. Somewhere along the way, it started to get hard to make the words come. It got harder, and I’m afraid to say, it stayed that way. So, when the Bad Girlz got together and decided to put together a series of “advice to our newbie selves” posts, I knew already what the title and concept would be. It Gets Harder. Thanks a lot, Debbie Downer.
Poor little newbie-writer Syd! What did she ever do to deserve such a crap mentor? And for that matter, how did her mentor-self become such a hardened old broad? It was a lot of things, some of which are beyond the scope of this article—but mainly it was a matter of quantity vs. quality. I knew more, so I recognized when my words were off right away. I became a compulsive editor, honing each sentence until it felt perfect, no matter if it was a first draft. Each day, I’d begin writing by going back over and picking apart what I’d written before. The quality was better, but boy was the going ever slow! The time it would take to produce five pages now produced one. As metamorphoses go, the timing utterly sucked. This time of my life is one where creative windows come in furtive snatches, much like trying to eat a cookie around a toddler without him sussing it out and demanding five for himself. A lot of little chances get wasted when you’re fussing around with old words instead of putting new ones on the page.
When thinking about this post, an idea came to me. Instead of bashing newbie Syd over the head with a club of her broken dreams, I’d think about what she could teach me. Her enthusiasm kept the same old story fresh through countless revisions. Her desire to entertain people with her stories made her fearless about handing them over to readers. Her exhaustive detailing of every little thing (down to her heroine’s favorite nail polish AND brand of topcoat) made sure she was never at a loss where to begin. Girl wrote in real time, y’all. So what if half of it ended up in the white void where deleted words spend eternity? That’s where the hardened broad comes in to do her thing!
I’m glad we’ve had this theme of looking back for our posts lately. It’s prompted me to think about not just the advice I’d give to my newbie writer self, but it also made me realize that she has a lot more to offer than I’d given her credit for, and she’s someone I want on my team.
So tell me, what awesome qualities did you have as new writers that you’d like to have now?